By: D. Selby

 

If we were playing “Jeopardy,” and the category was Central American vegetables, here’s how we would present this round.

ANSWER: An edible tropical tuber with pinkish-orange, slightly sweet flesh, belonging to the bindweed plant family and packed with healthy nutrients.

RESPONSE: What is a SWEET POTATO?

Would you have guessed it? Be honest. Most Americans think of sweet potatoes as a produce commodity used in preparing the classic sweet potato pie or candied yams. What we didn’t know is sweet potatoes are highly nutritious: a rich source of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the large, sweet-tasting starch is considered one of the healthiest vegetables in the world. That’s right!

Cutting-edge research reveals a number of health benefits associated with the sweet potato that may encourage you to add them to your everyday diet.

A Good Source of Vitamins

Within the orange-hued flesh contains an unsurpassed source of bioavailable beta-carotene that transforms into vitamin A. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant and is linked to anti-aging benefits as well as certain types of cancer prevention.

The National Institutes of Health notes the sweet potato is a helpful source in the maintenance and strengthening of our eyesight. In fact, the UDSA Food Consumption Database informs us that one baked sweet potato provides more than seven times the amount of beta-carotene needed for the average adult per day.

Vitamins B and E work to energize the body protects from oxidative damage and support a healthy immune system. Being rich in vitamin D, the sweet potato works to help build strong bones.

Sweet potatoes are a mighty source of vitamin C. Scientists have found more than one-third of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in one sweet potato. The vitamin not only promotes good skincare and collagen growth; it strengthens immunity (extremely important during cold and flu season), fights infection, may lower blood pressure, and heal wounds.

FIBER and ANTI-INFLAMMATORY PROPERTIES

Eaten with the skin on, the sweet potato is a good source of fiber and antioxidants, important to heart, digestive, and gut health. Regular consumption lowers cholesterol and helps to manage weight. Its fiber-rich component has been linked to more regular bowel movements.

Antioxidant properties are particularly potent in purple sweet potatoes. That’s right, the orange-hued starchy vegetable comes in purple, too! In those, you’ll find a more powerful dose of Vitamins A and C which functions as antioxidants and protects cells against various diseases.

The naturally sweet orange potato has anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to quell inflammation at the cellular level reducing the risk of chronic disease and obesity. Studies have shown reduced inflammation in brain and nerve tissue after consuming one purple sweet potato. The improvement of cognitive functions was found as well.

And Other Minerals, Too!

Potassium is an essential mineral found in sweet potatoes needed for good heart health. Potassium lowers blood pressure, helps to regulate fluid and mineral balance, regulates heart rhythm, and reduces unnecessary strain on the heart.

The iron contained in the sweet potato is an essential mineral aiding in the production of white blood cells.

The magnesium found in sweet potatoes helps the body relax and works as an anti-stress mineral. FYI: Experts estimate a magnesium deficiency in over 80 percent of North Americans.

The Distinction

Here’s another “Jeopardy” challenge for you in the category of vegetables.

Answer: An orange variety sweet potato, grown very large, less sweet, more starchy and dry, and harder to find in local grocery stores.

Anyone? … Time’s up!

Response: What is a YAM?

That was a tricky one. The sweet potato is often referred to as a ‘yam,’ but there is a botanical distinction between the two. While they are both root vegetables, the yam, native to Africa and Asia, comes from the lily family. The sweet potato comes from the bindweed or morning glory group with origins in either Central or South America.

Yams grow larger, are sweeter to the taste, but do not contain the nutritional value of the sweet potato. While the orange-hued vegetable is most common to Americans, other colors (such as purple) are enjoyed by others in other parts of the globe.

Versatility

Welcome the ‘mighty’ sweet potato into your diet and enjoy the versatility in the way they may be prepared. Try them steamed, boiled, baked, roasted, mashed, fried, grilled, or pureed.